Study Guide

American Pastoral American Opportunity

By Philip Roth

American Opportunity

"Good-bye, Americana; hello real time." (3.65)

Way to be a master wordsmith, Roth. Jerry's words contain not one but two contrasting sets of symbols.

"Americana" seems to refer to the numerous symbols of an idealized America. Sports is one example of this. When the Swede excels at athletics while in high school, he becomes a symbol of what it is to be successful in America to the people in his neighborhood.

Another symbol of American opportunity is Newark Maid, the successful glove factory of the Levov family. The factory shows that America can be a land of opportunity, where immigrant families like the Levovs can rise to the top through hard work, innovation, and the force of sheer will. And let us not forget the Swede's elaborate fantasy of being Johnny Appleseed, who to him totally symbolizes all that is good about America.

Conversely, "real time" refers to America beneath the surface, America in a global context during the Vietnam War and how the war is impacting America at home, America as a battleground in a media frenzy. This set includes symbolic representations of poverty in America, vividly symbolized by Merry's dying neighborhood and decrepit room in Newark when the Swede meets her after she's been missing for five years.

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